I was thinking just now about former musical enfant terrible Ben Lee, who in his early album Breathing Tornadoes (back when he was quoted, whether in jest or hubristic earnestness I know not, as saying he was the best Australian singer-songwriter ever, or something like that) included a song titled ‘Cigarettes can kill you’. [Is that sort of cheeriness why Claire Danes dumped him?]
And of course, they can. 100 million people are estimated from dying from tobacco smoking during the 20th century, and perhaps a billion may die from it this century (assuming asteroid strikes, nuclear war, global warning or the Rapture do not end our history first). But it does not stop people from smoking. In China, for example, the annual pro capita consumption (an apt word perhaps) of cigarettes is 2043, whereas in Australia it is 917.
Of course, whilst I am a non-smoker, I cannot exactly preach. Red wine, red meat, and sugary snacks are my poisons of choice, and I am finding it pretty hard to lose weight.
As I have expressed in this blog previously, I am rather skeptical about the coming apocalypse, whether it is coronavirus or something else. But I do keep an eye on the coronavirus epidemic, and I note that three hours ago, the number of people infected was up to 60,328, with 1368 dead, compared to 28,262 infected and 565 dead a week ago. If it keeps doubling at this rate, you do not need to have passed high school maths (I actually have) to know what the numbers are going to look like by Easter.
It is possibly the most serious new illness we have seen in a while, and it’s human cost in the short term looks like being appalling. But putting it in some sort of twisted context, there is still little for most people to worry about.
If you are relatively healthy, rested, and well nourished, and fortunate enough to live somewhere with high quality health care and low air pollution, coronavirus is unlikely to be a problem, even if you do catch it.
China is a rather different place. With the exception of during our recent bushfires, air pollution in China is significantly higher than that we experience in Australia. We also do not have the same working hours. My working week is 37.5 hours (up from the 36.75 hours I had when I first entered the full time work force three decades ago), which allows me much time to contemplate exercising, eat out, garden, read, listen to music, or to blog. In the workers’ paradise that is Communist China, the mandated working week is 44 hours, and the average week is 46.3 hours. The poor bastards working in a smart phone factory work 72 hour weeks.
Put yourself in the position of some unfortunate overworked, weary smart phone factory worker. Not only do they work miserable long hours, but they do so in an environment with much more air and water pollution, and where they are going to smoke 2.2 cigarettes for each ciggie Australians do. And whilst I have the first world problem of too much sugar and red meat in my diet, I doubt they are going to be over-nourished.
When something like coronavirus arrives in such an environment, which affects the respiratory system, it is going to hit a large population which is, due to the underlying living conditions, going to be less resistant to it.
This is all going to have great potential for awfulness in coming weeks for people in poor developing countries, where we have exported our pollution, and where first world economic hegemony results in some modern form of third world helotry. It is the unpinning living conditions in those places which are going to make them more vulnerable to coronavirus.
I am reminded, even more than usual, that most of my problems are first world problems, and that living in the first world: with clean air, clean water, decent health care and nutrition, the Rule of Law, comfortable work-life balance, and with all the trappings of lower middle class material affluence that I enjoy, is a blessing that I should never take for granted.